Real work begins now on school projects Officials looking into how $40.5 million will be spent
After nearly a year of budget mediation with the county, a settlement agreement has been signed, $40.5 million has been designated for the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s three largest capital needs and projects are finally moving forward.
This is when “the fun begins,” said Rowan-Salisbury Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann, as he explained how plans for a central administrative office, upfitting Knox Middle School and building a consolidated elementary school in the western part of the county are moving along.
Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said the district appreciates the opportunity to build new buildings and will try to be “forward thinking” during the process.
“We take this work seriously,” she added.
Officials want to create something that’s aesthetically inviting and will foster a learning environment, yet that is also financially prudent, Moody explained.
“It’s a really, really exciting time,” she said.
Ever since the Rowan County School System and Salisbury City Schools merged 25 years ago, the district’s administrative staff has been scattered in office buildings across the county.
The settlement agreement with county commissioners allotted $6.5 million for the construction of a new central office building for the district’s administrative staff. In order to receive that money, however, the school system has quite a bit of work to do.
First of all, a site selection must be made and finalized. The agreement states that the building must be in the 500 block of North Main Street in Salisbury or at another site approved by commissioners. It cannot be built at 329 S. Main St., a site previously considered by the Board of Education.
Vann said the school system is “in the process now” of talking to the property owners for the North Main Street site.
The site isn’t perfect, though. The primary issue is the lack of room for the number of parking spaces required for an office building of its size.
So, district leaders are also looking at other sites as well, Moody said, and estimated a one- to two-month process before a final site will be selected.
Once a site is decided on and, if necessary, approved, architect Bill Burgin will tailor preliminary blueprints to fit the site and create working drawings.
That will show exactly what needs to be done to the site, as well as where elements such as wiring and plumbing will go.
“Because we’re adapting them to a new site,” it will take approximately eight to nine weeks to finish the drawings, Vann estimated.
He also said the Board of Education must decide whether to use a traditional delivery method or hire a construction manager.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two processes is that with a construction manager, a guaranteed maximum price is set. If it’s exceeded, it’s the responsibility of the construction manager to cover it. In addition, the owner can select a construction manager based on qualifications and experience, rather than sending construction plans out to bid.
“They all have their advantages,” Vann said.
Before the building process begins, the school board must receive approval from a host of local and state agencies, including the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“Any project that’s built for a school system in the state is reviewed by NCDPI,” Vann explained, adding that the board must receive approval from the Department of Public Instruction before it’s able to get a building permit.
The board will also need approval from the local building inspections department, fire marshal, Department of Insurance and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as zoning water and sewer permits.
Vann said the exact length of the process will depend on each agency’s workload.
While the board waits for various permits and approvals, Vann said it will hire an engineering and testing firm to complete a Phase I Environmental Study on the site, which includes walk throughs, sifting through records and conducting interviews.
“We have to do multiple things at one time to meet our deadlines,” he explained.
All these things must happen before the county can receive debt approval by the Local Government Commission. Once the Board of Education receives all the necessary approvals, the $6.5 million should be released.
“Then, we have to go to contractors for them to bid,” Vann said.
Once the contract is awarded, he estimates it will take 13 to 14 months for the building to be built.
“That really is a moving target,” he said.
On July 1, either the commissioners or school board will provide $500,000 for planning and design development costs for Knox Middle School and a consolidated elementary school in the western part of the county.
That money will be refunded to the entity that makes the payment in July 2015, when $12 million will be released to begin renovations to Knox or to purchase land for a consolidated elementary school. In July 2016, an additional $3.5 million will be released for the same purpose.
The school board will play a central role planning for the two projects, but will consult with the Joint Planning Committee made of representatives from the school system and the county.
The school system already has some schematics in place for Knox Middle School, but nothing is set in stone, Vann said.
“Dr. Moody has a vision for the transformation,” he said.
“We start picking the leadership for that building next week,” Moody said, adding, “The most important thing in my job is hiring the right principals.”
Once leadership is in place for the school, the district and school leaders will work together to create a design for the school.
Vann said the plan is to use some of Knox’s existing structures and to tear down some others.
Right now, they’re trying to “determine the best plan that will meet the needs of that community,” he said.
On July 1, 2017, a final installment of $18 million will be made available to consolidate Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools.
“Typically, you’d see a public process,” Moody said, but with the way the mediation agreement was written, “that decision has been made.”
The agreement doesn’t leave room to renovate both buildings, only to consolidate and replace the two schools.
Moody said the biggest expense in a school is operations costs, including staff and utilities, so consolidating will save a great deal of money each year.
“The buildings are older,” she said, so air conditioning, heating and fixtures are not energy efficient at either school.
“There’s going to have to be some communication with that community,” Vann said.
According to Moody, the district is looking for a parcel of land between the two schools with “good, safe road frontage.”
Vann added that it’s not uncommon for a rural elementary school to be located on 30 or more acres, but the size will be determined by what the district can find and what program requirements and activities are planned for the school.